Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pew Research and Beauty

Tuesday greetings to all.

You may have already seen today's report from the Pew Research Center concerning "America's Changing Religious Landscape." The opening paragraph tells the story.

"The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks, Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men."

In 2007, 23.9% of respondents to a similar survey identified themselves as Catholics, while in 2014, 20.8% did, a drop of 3.1% in seven years.

These are alarming figures, for sure. Next week, I will be presenting a keynote talk at the 79th Annual Conference and Exhibition of the National Conference of Catechetical Leaders. My focus is on "Encountering the Good News through the Liturgy: Task and Source of Evangelization." I have found this particular talk quite challenging and, given today's Pew report, even more so.

I plan to talk about the way that beauty (space, art, furnishings, music) captures the heart of the believer at the liturgy, evangelizes, and sends the believer out into the world.

I am pondering the question about whether or not beauty in the liturgy can bear the weight of that responsibility? Where do Millennials discover beauty today? Every day on the train, I look at people in this age range and 90% of them are doing one of two things. Either their body is hunched over their cell phone and they are texting, searching, gaming, reading, or watching something. Or they are plugged into a musical device, listening through earbuds or those very large sets of headphones. No one (save yours truly) is looking up at other human beings, or looking out at the beauty of nature as it passes by, or what I see as the beauty of the urban landscape that surrounds us. Could beauty be something that could draw people back into the experience of Catholicism?

When I was in seventh grade at Saint Charles School in Woburn, Massachusetts, my sister, a year older, was "making her Confirmation." We didn't have a parish choir; Mrs. Cox, was the less-than-talented organist (she kept her foot on the lowest C pedal on the pedal board for the entire hymn, no matter what key it was in!). And Monsignor O'Neill made sure that our Masses (scheduled like this: Saturdays at 4:00, 5:00 7:00; Sundays at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12 Noon in English, 12 Noon in Spanish, 5:00, 6:15, and 7:30) were no longer than thirty-five minutes. I don't think we had time for beauty! But that Confirmation celebration was different. Perhaps to impress the bishop, Monsignor would invite the Mishawum Valley Choral Society so sing at the Confirmation Mass. I had never heard anything so glorious in church before.

I remember sitting there as a seventh grader and when that choral group sang the Mallotte Lord's Prayer, something was triggered inside me. It was right then and there, believe it or not, that I felt that I was being called to be a priest. Folks, I get goose bumps right now thinking about that moment. The sheer beauty of that choral sound that filled that church filled me with such awe that, to this day, I know that moment meant that I would never be the same again.

Does the liturgy have the potential to be the vehicle of those moments today? When I think about my fellow commuters on the train, I wonder what would happen if we arranged for a forty-voice choir to enter our train car and sing some glorious piece of choral music.

It is a tremendous responsibility to ensure that we bring the best of art into our liturgical celebrations. Space, art, music, sung and spoken prayer, etc. Will this be enough to transform peoples' hearts? Are people generally or genuinely aware that their hearts could use some transformation?

Struggling here, as you can probably tell.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Jen said...

Hi Jerry,

I'm a Canadian millennial, so I can certainly identify with the Pew study findings - Canada's trends are likely similar.

My Parish recently gave a financial update that wasn't particularly positive, and there was a lot of talk about how new housing developments in our area will help with the finances, especially as these developments are anticipated to be full of young families.

I fear that new housing developments will have a small impact on our Parish, due to trends like this. Yes, we will likely have more baptisms/first communions/confirmations, and probably Christmas and Easter attendance. But how many more regular, loyal, actively engaged parishioners will we have? My guess is not that many, relative to the growth in population.

And I have questions of my own. How do I reconcile living in a world where women and men should be treated equally (and yes, I know they aren't!), but attend a church that is arguably one of the most patriarchal organizations on earth? What about the Church's tendencies towards discrimination of particular groups in society?

I well understand how millennials struggle to reconcile their values with the Church, and then why they walk away.

(Let's not talk about 2 income families and split families, where church attendance may just literally not be possible for scheduling reasons...)

I wish I had a better and more hopeful answer for you.


jdonliturgy said...

Gerry - you are so right. We don't know exactly how to reach this generation.

I recently heard Dr. James Pauley say in a talk about liturgical catechesis that the biggest problem in the Church today is "liturgical boredom." His contention is that today's young people need to be engaged and drawn in - and if they find something boring, they simply don't come back. That means,increasingly, that they leave the Church because they may be put off by the formality of the Mass, which does not easily engage them.

Would beauty draw them in if they have no real relationship with Christ? Not sure that it would - unless we help "translate" that beauty using their cultural language - and focus it through the lens of Christ and his community.

I will be interested to hear what you have to say - and hope that you can focus leaders into examining these questions. Looking forward to your talk!